Thank you for coming to Holy Mass tonight. It is not a day of obligation, so I think you are here because you love Jesus more than anything else you could do this evening. The parish feels especially like home on Holy Thursday, recalling our best childhood dinner tables, pointing us to the eternal banquet of the Lamb. God our Father, and the Church our mother, have called us to the meal. Like children we have come down from our rooms to dinner with Him and the rest of the family. We love Him so much because He first loved us so much. This night, unlike any other night, we witness the very institution of the Holy Eucharist in the Mass. Only on this day will your priest pray these words before the consecration: “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands….” It is the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The Priesthood of Jesus Christ
God instituted the Holy Mass on this day by first instituting the Sacred Priesthood. “I no longer call you slaves but friends, because I have told you everything…” He told His twelve apostles. For them He blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to them saying “this is my body…. Do this in remembrance of me.” He gave His Body to these men first to sanctify their own souls and then that they would sanctify the world. These men were the first “stewards of the mysteries of God,” the distributors of Christ’s saving sacraments.
St. John Paul described the priest in these words: “The only priest who will always prove necessary to people is the priest who believes profoundly, who professes his faith with courage, who prays fervently, who teaches with deep conviction, who serves, who puts into practice his own life the beatitudes, who knows how to love disinterestedly, who is close to everyone, especially those most in need.” The world needs priests like this. I need priests like this.
In 1954, Sir Alec Guinness, the great British actor (“Obi-Wan Kenobi, to those of us raised with Star Wars), was in France shooting a movie about a Catholic priest. He was walking back to his apartment one evening, still dressed in a priest’s cassock, when a little boy darted out of the bushes and grasped his hand. “Mon Pere,” he babbled, “let me tell you about school today.” The boy’s simple confidence and affection in the priesthood deeply impressed the actor. Two years later Alec Guinness became a Catholic, hoping to find the same joy in knowing God through his priests. His Jewish wife followed him to the Church a year later. I’ve given a few retreats in Haiti, and those simple words with which everyone seems to greet the priest, mon pere, is so touching. Rich and poor alike call priests whom they have never met “my father” because they believe they have a Father in Heaven who loves them through His priests.
A priest works for truth and justice in this world, but always from the perspective of eternal salvation. He consoles people best when he helps them see this world’s difficulties in light of eternity. Above all, the world wants priests with a zeal for souls, that themselves believe in things above more than things on earth.
It is not easy for your priests to do that, especially in a secular, post-Christian society. He is tempted to give up or give in to the world. Any man who becomes a priest wants to help others. But as the world wears on him, he is tempted to use human means rather than God’s ways. In the stress of running his parish, he may forget the primacy of grace. But the parish, and the priest, must above all be a school of prayer. A priest who prays will never be undone by evil. Nothing can touch a man of prayer, they told me in the seminary, and I have found it to be true. That is why we have dedicated ourselves to the Holy Mass and Eucharistic Adoration in our parish. The chapel tonight is full of live plants, to look like the garden of Gethsemane. That is where we will find the great high priest. He is in prayer, in the garden, in his agony for all souls. Let us go with him into that garden, and pray for our priests to dwell in that garden with him, to undergo the agony all priests must undergo, that none be lost. With Our Blessed Lady, we intercede for the world, that none be lost.